Unsolicited Review: JVC HA-S500-B Part 2

Continued from Unsolicited Overview: JVC HA-S500-B Part 1

Disclaimer: I visited a few audio-centric forums and sites such as http://www.head-fi.org before purchasing the JVC HA-S500-B and learned that like most fanatics, audiophiles can be as scary as Apple fans, Star Wars wackos, Trump morons, and programmers who advocate tabs over spaces. Although I'm comfortable reviewing FreeBSD releases, Linux distributions, and consumer electronics, I'm not really qualified to review audio quality of accessories, particularly headphones, because I'm tone deaf due to repeated blows to the head and playing saxophone over the years. Feel free to head over to a dedicated audio site instead of Unsolicited But Offered for a review of the JVC HA-S500-B's audio specifications. On the other hand, I listen to audio like everyone else.

I tested the JVC HA-S500-B with a variety of hardware, encoding, and types of video and media. One of the unscientific listening tests I run with headsets and headphones is identifying words in Chinese and Japanese songs and movies. If I can easily pick out individual words, tones, expressions, and lyrics from Mandarin and Nihongo songs/dialogue I'm unfamiliar with, then the audio quality is pretty good. The test also applies to French songs (Sacha Distel classics for example) and shows, though it's considerably easier because the vocabulary is more familiar even to non-French speaking listeners despite the intonation and accents in French.

 JVC HA-S500-B Unboxing

The following is just a short list of audio sources I used the JVC with over the course of this short overview:

Hardware and software: 
Windows Phone Lumia 650 (Windows Mobile 10) /925 (Windows Phone 8.1)
Zotac ZBOX / AOC - Fedora 24 Alsa driver + Totem
Sony Xperia C3 (Android 5.1) - Movies app
iPad 2 (iOS9) - Express
HP stream 8 (Windows 10) - Windows Media Player 11
Macbook Air (macOS) - iTunes/VLC

Audio and video media:
Fist of the North Star /  北斗の拳 (Japanese)
Cafe Love Waiting OST / 等一個人咖啡 (Taiwanese)
Les Engrenages Serie 2 (French)
Les Resvenants Serie 1 (French)
Destinos (Spanish)
Au Revoir Taipei / 一頁台北 (Taiwanese)
Cowboy Bebop OST - Seatbelts (Japanese)
Twenty Four - Sowelu (Japanese)
Lester Young Verve Jazz Masters
The Best of Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
Stars in Las Vegas with Sarah Vaughan
MacGyver Season 6
Life in Mono -  Emma Bunton
BBC Radio 4
Pimsleur Russian 1 (Russian)

My conclusion is pretty straightforward - the JVC HA-S500-B is fantastic with accents and tones and has a wider volume range than my old Sony MDR-ZX100 by a mile. As expected, audio reproduction for tracks from Kylie Minogue, Chet Baker, Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Sting, Emma Bunton, The Bird and the Bee is superior to the entry level Sony MDR-ZX100.  I listened to Chinese language songs from the original soundtrack of Hear Me, Cafe Love Waiting, Au Revoir Taipei and identified the now-familiar Mandarin tones I try to practice everyday. The French in Les Engrenages was blunt and offending, and the haunting audio from Les Resvenants was as chilling as ever.

Sowelu on Groove Music sounds good on the JVC HA-S500-B.

The podcasts from Old Time Radio are reproductions of 1960s-1970s old radio shows like the The Saint and Suspense!, and I was able to pick up the scratches and pops from the analog original (something I didn't always hear when I used the stock Sony earphones that came with my Xperia C3 and the Sony MDR-ZX100). I don't appreciate bass much, but it's there when I play DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince albums like Code Red (1993).

Sound leak isn't a big deal for me, though I know many audiophiles emphasize it in their reviews. The JVC HA-S500-B doesn't have active noise canceling, but it was enough to keep out the heated arguments emanating from my next door neighbor. In fact, I don't recommend wearing the JVC HA-S500-B when crossing the street because you will definitely not hear movement from electronic bikes, scooters, and bicycles while wearing them.  Finally, those with small heads like me and users accustomed to only cheap headsets/headphones will certainly appreciate the cushy comfort of the padded headband and quality earpads. I never realized the difference in comfort when wearing a padded headband until the JVC (the Sony MDR-ZX100 didn't have a cushioned headband).

Recommending electronics is always a dubious affair because everyone has their expectations when it comes to products, particularly people with deep pockets and over inflated ideas of "quality". As noted, I'm not the best source for recommending audio products, but the JVC HA-S500-B hits all the right requirements for the typical user and there is no doubt I will be bringing the JVC HA-S500-B with me on my next economy class seat flight with crying babies and shaking engines.


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